Frustrated Microsoft users explore options

Frustration with Microsoft Corp. is prompting more companies to consider “un-Windows” alternatives, according to a study released Tuesday.

“Corporate user resentment and dissatisfaction with Microsoft and some of its practices is at an all-time high,” says Laura DiDio, senior analyst with the Yankee Group and the report’s author. That frustration is pushing more companies to consider Linux-based operating systems as well as Apple Computer Inc.’s OS X, she says.

The survey, conducted last April and May by the Yankee Group and Sunbelt Software, asked 1,500 corporations about their satisfaction with Microsoft. Bottom line: Many customers aren’t happy.

At the heart of people’s dissatisfaction is Microsoft’s new Licensing 6.0 program [Please see Microsoft Licensing: Day one]. The new policy launched on August 1 after confusion and delays dating back to last October. Nearly 40 per cent of respondents said they are “outraged” by Microsoft’s new licensing scheme, and are actively seeking alternate products, DiDio says.

The new volume-licensing program – called Software Assurance – asks corporate buyers to pay higher prices for new products as well as for maintenance and upgrade services, she says. And those who don’t stay current with updates will pay more down the line. At a time when corporate budgets are tight, such tactics are not going over very well, she says.

Corporate customers understand that Microsoft is facing declining revenues as companies slow down their PC upgrade cycles. But many feel the company has drastically overstepped its bounds, she says.

Writes one Yankee Group respondent: “For frickin’ sake they have (US)$36 billion in the bank and they are trying to squeeze us.”

Another writes: “I can’t stand being bullied by Microsoft like this.”

What’s notable about the customer frustration is that it hasn’t cooled over time, DiDio says. A similar study conducted in October 2001 showed people were already fuming, and that frustration clearly hasn’t waned, she says.

Not only businesses are feeling the pinch of Microsoft’s updated licensing plan, either. School districts in Oregon and Washington made headlines earlier this summer when they complained loudly over Microsoft’s new licensing requirements.

Microsoft’s new licensing scheme draws the most ire, but the customer respondents cite several other reasons for considering Windows alternatives, DiDio says. Many point to the company’s numerous delays of business-class products designed to work with Windows XP. Others profess confusion over the company’s .Net strategy of Web services and applications. Still others note their ongoing frustration with Microsoft’s perceived monopolistic practices and ongoing legal issues with the Department of Justice.

Finally, Microsoft’s ongoing security issues are a factor for many users. Despite Microsoft’s assurances that it is working to improve security in its products, few customers feel reassured. “It seems not a day goes by that you don’t hear about some security flaw,” DiDio says.

Despite these issues, the analyst doesn’t expect an immediate, major shift in the OS market. Windows owns about 90 per cent of the desktop market, with the various Linux distributions and Apple splitting the final 10 per cent.

“Windows is the dominant OS – and that’s not going to change any time soon,” DiDio says. “There is no mass defection, no march on Redmond.” But she says Linux and Apple fans – small but enthusiastic groups – should feel optimistic. “Basically it was clear–there are changes in the wind.”